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Eyeing off last weekend’s curry in the fridge? Reaching for some leftover chicken to use in a sandwich? Thinking of reheating that stir-fry?
Most of our fridges play host to leftovers. In fact, nib foundation partner, OzHarvest estimates that over 7.3 million tonnes of food goes to waste each year in Australia alone, and a third of this comes from our homes. Eating leftovers not only helps reduce waste, but it can also reduce your food budget.
So, we spoke with OzHarvest Founder and CEO Ronni Kahn to find out the best ways to store and reheat leftovers to avoid getting a nasty bout of food poisoning.
Food poisoning, or ‘foodborne illness’ is caused by harmful germs, including bacteria in contaminated food according to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ). Unfortunately, these germs typically won’t affect the taste, smell or appearance of your food, so it’s impossible to tell whether it’s safe or not.
The most common signs and symptoms of food poisoning are either gastroenteritis-like in nature; think abdominal cramps, diarrhoea or vomiting, or flu-like symptoms, with headaches potentially added to the unpleasant mix.
While food poisoning will generally self-resolve, the the Government’s Healthdirect site notes that those who have a weakened immune system, are pregnant, elderly or very young are at greater risk of both being affected by food poisoning bugs and of experiencing serious complications.
Food poisoning bacteria that survive the cooking process can start to multiply when hot food cools down until it hits 5ºC according to FSANZ. That’s why it’s essential to quickly get your leftover food into the fridge or freezer.
When these same leftovers are taken from your fridge to reheat, bacteria can start to multiply once the temperature rises above 5ºC, stopping only when the food reaches 60ºC. That’s why rapid reheating is recommended to prevent food poisoning (or immediate consumption of chilled leftovers such as salads or boiled eggs).
1. Store them as soon as possible: Leaving your casserole or mashed potatoes on the bench overnight will render them high risk. FSANZ recommends rapid cooling, taking the food from 60ºC to 21ºC in a maximum of two hours, and from 21ºC to 5ºC in a maximum of four hours. Not sure where in the fridge to put your food? OzHarvest has given us this handy guide
2. Use ice packs or fridge bags: This will help keep your leftovers cool when transporting them between home, work or school.
3. Use labels on storage containers: And, make sure you include the date and contents on the label! Given the rule of thumb when it comes to eating leftovers of an unknown storage date is ‘if in doubt, throw it out’, this will reduce your food waste
4. Store correctly: Ensure your leftovers are stored in small enough portions to allow for proper cooling and reheating (we’ve all put the giant block of frozen curry in the microwave, only to burn the edges and still have an icy – bacteria breeding – centre to contend with)
5. Keep raw and cooked foods separate: Cross-contamination can easily occur when raw and cooked foods cross paths in storage. Raw meats and poultry should be stored on the bottom shelf so juices don’t contaminate food on the lower shelves (a single drop of chicken juice can give you a nasty bout of salmonella which can leave you sick for weeks)
6. Rotate leftovers: Ensure food that is set to expire soon is at the front and fresher food is at the back – this will decrease the amount of food you waste and save you money and time. If you know it’s unlikely you’ll eat it all, OzHarvest recommends freezing your freshest leftovers and gobbling up the rest. Remember to only reheat frozen cooked meals once, however, uncooked meat can be frozen more than once if it’s been defrosted safely in the fridge
7. Reheat with care: Ensure food is heated evenly, with no cold pockets where bacteria can live by stirring regularly while reheating. Your goal is to reduce the time food spends between five and 60 degrees, as this is when bacteria can quickly multiply. Improperly cooled and reheated meat, poultry dishes, soups and casseroles can become infected with a bacteria called clostridium perfringens, which can cause intense abdominal cramps and diarrhoea over a 24-hour period
Different food can be stored for different amounts of time, though a good guide is to keep it no more than three to four days in the refrigerator (anything you’re unlikely to eat in that time is better stored in your freezer – don’t forget to label!)
That said, here’s a handy cheat sheet of the more common leftover foods and how long you can store them safely:
|Type||Refrigerator (4°C or below)||Freezer (-18°C or below)|
|Cooked meat and poultry||3 to 4 days||2 to 6 months|
|Raw poultry and raw ground meet||1 to 2 days||9 to 12 months|
|Raw fish||1 to 2 days||2 to 8 months|
|Raw meat (beef, veal, lamb and pork)||3 to 5 days||4 to 12 months|
|Cooked rice or pasta||3 days||1 month|
|Egg, chicken, ham, tuna and macaroni salads||3 to 4 days||Does not freeze well|
|Fully cooked sausages (chicken, turkey, pork and beef)||1 week||1 to 2 months|
|Hard-boiled eggs||1 week||Do not freeze|
|Opened package or deli-sliced luncheon meat||3 to 5 days||1 to 2 months|
|Pizza||3 to 4 days||1 to 2 months|
|Roasted vegetables||3 to 4 days||Does not freeze well|
|Soups, non-dairy sauces and casseroles with vegetable or meat added||3 to 4 days||2 to 3 months|
Cutting back on your food waste at home is all about getting into good habits – and how you handle your leftovers is part of OzHarvest’s mantra for reducing food waste: Look. Buy. Store. Cook.
“Cutting back on our individual food waste is the single most powerful way we can take direct action against climate change. It’s an easy win, both for your pocket and the planet. Small changes at home can make a big impact when it comes to reducing your food waste,” says Ronni.
At nib, we’re passionate about eating well for both our own, and the planet’s health. Keen to find out more about eating sustainably? We partnered with Dietitian, Sarah Leung for our article, 4 quick ways to climate hack your diet.
OzHarvest has partnered with nib foundation to expand its reach in the Newcastle, Lower Hunter and Port Stephens area. The latest funding from nib foundation provided OzHarvest with a third vehicle, meaning more frequent food pickups and deliveries to an increasing number of local charities.
Ronni Kahn AO founded OzHarvest in 2004, driven by a passion to make a difference and stop good food going to waste; she started with one van in Sydney. After changing the law to make it safe for companies to donate surplus food, she has grown OzHarvest to be Australia’s leading food rescue organisation, opened the first rescued food supermarket and is now taking the unique food rescue model global.